If you want to know what the best episode of Game of Thrones is, this is it. “Blackwater” is the drama’s crowning achievement, an episode so singularly focused and brilliantly directed that it puts most movies to shame. There are no sideplots with Daenerys Targaryen or Jon Snow or Robb Stark or Theon Greyjoy. From start to finish, “Blackwater” is about Stannis Baratheon’s invasion of King’s Landing, and the winner is a bit of a surprise twist.
The Calm Before the Storm
Before the actual war, the episode brilliantly shows us vignettes from all the major players as they get ready for the impending attack.
-Davos Seaworth chats with his son Matthos about the one true god and how impressive their rise from smuggler to future Hand of the King is. It’s a bittersweet scene, especially given what happens later.
-Bronn and the Hound get drunk and make threats against one other, each sizing the other up as the alpha male.
-Tyrion prepares with his squire, Podrick, while Lord Varys is understandably terrified because he knows exactly what kind of dark magic someone like Melisandre is capable of.
-Cersei procures a potion from Pycelle as a last resort suicide option.
-Joffrey makes Sansa wish him luck by kissing his sword, Hearteater. Even the name of his sword is stupid. Needle would kick Hearteater’s butt.
-The women are all escorted to a private chamber for protection while the men hit the walls and wait for the arrival of Stannis Baratheon’s ships.
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World
The opening to the war is the kind of brilliant tactical maneuver only Tyrion Lannister could come up with. One ship stands alone in the sea. Joffrey thinks it’s from Stannis’ fleet and wants to know why Tyrion isn’t firing on it.
It’s because it isn’t Stannis’ ship. Instead we see Davos Seaworth notice that this ship is filled with all of the wildfire Tyrion had. Davos gets that “Holy crap, we’re screwed” look on his face as a single archer working for Tyrion shoots a single flaming arrow into the sea. It hits the ship and the wildfire explodes in a massive burst of green death. It takes out almost all of Stannis Baratheon’s ships including the one with Matthos Seaworth. I’m not totally sure whether Davos died too, but I do know I’ll miss Matthos Seaworth.
The magic of the wildfire explosion is stunning, and the show should easily pick up a view Visual Effects Emmys for it.
The Battle, Part 2
But this is an epic battle and one arrow isn’t going to end it. Stannis Baratheon has a second group of ships to storm the lands and take King’s Landing. Tyrion and his men try their best to fight back, but the invading armies are too powerful.
During the melee, Lancel Lannister takes one hit and freaks out, running back to Cersei and the women. Meanwhile, the Hound does some serious damage, but then he starts to see Stannis Baratheon’s men, on fire, running towards him. And that’s when something snaps inside of him.
The Hound runs back inside the walls and faces Joffrey, who demands that he return to fight. But the Hound has seen enough violence to know that he can’t win. He delivers an awesome profanity-filled tirade that ends with “F— the king!” It’s a perfect wartime moment of a man recognizing that what he’s fighting for isn’t worth dying for. Between this and the Hound killing Sansa’s attempted rapists, the disfigured soldier is shaping up to be one of the best and unlikeliest heroes in the Seven Kingdoms.
Cersei and Sansa
While war rages on, Cersei spends the episode chatting up Sansa and offering the best performance Lena Headey has ever done (if she somehow gets nominated for an Emmy and submits this episode, she’ll win). She gets sick and tired of Sansa’s perfect little “I love the king” nonsense, explaining that she’s totally willing to use sex to get out of any situation and that, realistically, she has absolutely no loyalty to Joffrey at all. She almost seems to be rooting for death just so this can all end.
Cersei leaves with her youngest son, which gives Shae the opportunity to send Sansa back to her room so she can hopefully stay safe. That’s when things get interesting, because Sansa finds the Hound in her room. He offers to take her back to Winterfell and to protect her, but she refuses, still saying how much she loves Joffrey. That’s when the Hound gets real with her, looks her straight in the eyes and explains that he’s not playing games, he’s being 100 percent honest. He will keep her safe and she doesn’t need to keep lying and pretending to love Joffrey. And it seems to work.
The End of the Battle
Lancel is told by Cersei to get Joffrey off the frontlines, which he does. Joffrey flees like the coward he is, but that’s when Tyrion steps up and gives a rousing speech about how everyone should fight for their own pride. It’s beautiful and works for about half a second, but then there’s another battalion storming the shores.
Tyrion gets slashed across the face, but thankfully he’s saved by his squire, Pdorick. Yeah, I didn’t think that guy was important either (it seems he’s a cousin of the executioner, Ilyn Payne), but I guess he is. Tyrion ends the episode by fainting on the battlefield. At least I assume he fainted, because there’s no way he’s dead.
Cersei, meanwhile, is with her youngest son on the Iron Throne, ready to drink the poison she procured from Pycelle to kill her son and spare him whatever Stannis would do.
The doors to the great hall swing open, only it’s not Stannis Baratheon. First we see Loras Tyrell and his beautiful hair, and then Tywin Lannister rushes in to claim the war is over.
Yes, it seems Tywin wasn’t going to kill Robb, he was going to meet up with Loras and his men to serve as support for King’s Landing, and it worked as they killed off the invading army and left Stannis screaming in horror that he’d lost the battle.
Maybe next time Stannis will remember to bring along Melisandre and her Smoke Monster.
I have no idea how next week’s Game of Thrones season 2 finale could possibly top this, but I am just honored to get to watch such visionary filmmaking on television.
(Image courtesy of HBO)